Residential Smart Grid Could Be A Tough Sell: Two Recent Polls Tell Us Why

DOE- Smart Grid Concept
U.S. Department of Energy

Residential energy management is considered a big piece of Smart Grid benefits. But the industry must do a better job of clarifying what those benefits mean to residents. Hand waving explanations and reliance on ratepayer faith in the local utility just won’t work anymore.
A report issued by Accenture, based on a survey of more than 9,000 consumers in 17 countries, found that the majority don’t want utilities to manage their electricity usage without paying generously for the privilege. Only 29 percent of consumers trust their electricity suppliers to help them optimize their electricity use. (See article Consumers Unwilling to Allow Electricity Suppliers to Remotely Limit Energy Use Without Significant Price Discount.)
This consumer reluctance could be a significant speed bump in Smart Grid development and application because energy management and optimization is what Smart Grid is mostly all about.
Then there’s the surprising strength and recent growth of public distrust of government and big corporations.
A recent Pew Research Center poll (Distrust, Discontent, Anger and Partisan Rancor) found that only 22 percent of Americans trust the federal government to do the right thing most of the time. Almost half of the poll respondents think the government has a negative effect on their day-to-day lives. Americans tend to see both the government and big business in the same light – only about 25 percent said either one has a positive impact on the nation.
Combining and summarizing the implications of these reports, it looks like most consumers don’t even want a utility to manage their energy use unless it pays generously for the privilege. They also don’t have much trust that a big company, like a utility, can do it right.
Then there’s the privacy issue - consumers are wary of anyone monitoring their household activities – even if it’s just keeping track of appliance use.
They’re also suspicious that, whatever is done, it probably isn’t for the consumer benefit anyway. Somebody’s making a buck, and it sure isn’t the little guy.
Needless to say, the majority of the respondents probably won’t be swayed by a Department of Energy argument that residential Smart Grid gadgets are good for people and good for the planet. And the offer to enable folks to monitor their household electrical usage, as joyous and intriguing as that may be, will soon wear thin. Like watching paint dry.
Widespread acceptance of many smart grid applications will depend upon economical incentives.
And these better be clear, near term and significant.


Energy Storage Part 2

I forgot to mention the Utilities, Government, and eye spies will have no idea if you are home and using your Stored Energy or not.

You will purchase Energy at the price you program into the meter, store it in the Energy Storage batteries, and use it whenever you want to. The next day during the "peak" the next week, during a power outage or the next year.

Paul Mauldin's picture


The trick will be to get batteries/storage cheap enough that it makes sense to arbitrage the electricity. I don't think it does at this point for the residential sector. Someday.


Energy Storage cost comparison

The cost for Energy Storage including the batteries is the lowest cost Energy solution we have. And it could be even cheaper once those in charge of State and Federal Energy Rebate programs realize it.

Compare: a 2,000 Energy Storage System for $1,899. six EPA RATED GREEN Golf Cart Batteries for 7,500 Watts of storage for $600. equals <$2,500.

This will store lower cost Energy "off peak" for use the next day during the more expensive "peak" or anytime you want to use it such as a power outage.
Comparison this to a $40,000 Solar System

I will be a speaker at a public hearing this month on a proposed 5MW Peaker Power Plant.

The Peaker burns 350 gallons of oil an hour and is planned to run 1,200 hours a year.

350 gallons an hour times 1,200 hours, equals 420,000 gallons a year times $4.00 a gallon equals $1,680,000.00

$1,680,000.00 divided by the $2,500. cost for the Energy Storage System equals 672. systems.

672 systems times 7500 Watts equals 5MW. And you can add another battery
box to each system for an additional $600. and have 10MW

And this investment in Energy Storage is there for years not just going up in smoke like the 420,000 gallons of oil to power the peaker.

The 672 systems should also qualify for the equivalent in Carbon Credits
year after year which could more than pay for replacement batteries when needed.

Paul Mauldin's picture

Energy Storage cost comparison

You bring up a good point - it doesn't make sense to build separate generation to fill in the peaks if we can use storage. I think there are a lot of issues around batteries, at least in people's minds, that keep them from prime time. Let me know what happens at the hearing.



Battery Storage

Your right. Many times after presenting this to CT and MA State Energy Committee Legislators I would hear later on some snipe in the crowd (more than likely a Utility Exc.)would shoot my message down saying I want to put Lead Acid Batteries all over the State.

I don't care what type of batteries you want to use I just need Volts and Amps. If a better and more cost effective battery is available in the future then switch over to them.

Lead Acid Batteries are the type we use in our cars and trucks and they give you the most bang for your buck.

According to Battery Council International Lead Acid Batteries are the number one EPA success story of our time. More than doubling any other product we recycle such as glass, tin cans, paper and tires.

Lead Acid batteries are 100% recycled again and again. The lead plates make new lead plates, the plastic case makes a new plastic case and the electrolyte is brought back to water and even fertilizer.

I get a big kick out of the rapid race to Lithium-Ion Batteries. It is a fact if all of our new cars were electric and using Lithium-Ion there is not enough known Lithium deposits on the entire planet to build even a single years production run.

And the main known deposits are not in the United States but in Countries that hate us.

Time is running out we need to start using all the tools we have. Wasting 60% or more of the Energy we produce everyday is not an answer.

Utility exec

This is where I have problems with articles about energy. The idea that someone in the crowd disagreeing with you must be a utiliy employee. I don't work for any utility and I have concerns. In all of this talk about using electricity I don't see anyone mentioning that we burn coal to get electricity, so we are stopping the use of oil and replacing it with the use of more coal. I would like to see people stop using insults and fear to further their arguments.

Paul Mauldin's picture



Sounds like you've been in some debates! Care to elaborate?


Smart Grid with Energy Storage

Everyone will welcome the Smart Grid once they realize they can reduce the cost they pay for Energy, and have an automatic, silent, source of backup power during power outages with an "off Peak" Mrelectricity Energy Storage System.

With a Smart Grid and a Smart Meter a homeowner will be able to program the Smart Meter to what he or she is willing to pay for Energy circuit by circuit. The Energy Storage System included.

This means all the appliances in a home that are on the Energy Storage System would be either running on lower cost Utility power if the price bid is met or lower and the batteries would be getting charged.

Whenever the price is higher (peak time) the Energy Storage System will disconnect from the grid and the appliances will still be running on the lower cost Stored (off peak) Energy.

We have all heard Energy Efficiency is the new solution to our Nations Energy problems. An Energy Storage system can raise all the appliances on it (both Energy-Star and Non-Energy-Star)to 100% Energy Efficiency in so far as the "peak" load is concerned. See:

Smart Grid

I agree to a point about the privacy concerns but at some point we are going to have to make a sacrifice weather it is in privacy or a set limit of the amount of energy we are permitted to use.

For example if someone is concerned about their privacy they could be given a set daily or monthly limit to their energy usage. When they reach that limit no matter what day of the month or time of day it is the smart grid would send a signal to a contactor built into the utilities meter and shut off either the power or gas. That would put the responsibility on the customer. It would also mean that the utility would not monitor any specific appliances in a home or the usage at any specific time. The meter could be preset with internal firmware and not even require a signal be sent or received. The limit could be arrived at based on the house size it's energy efficiency and appliances installed and could be lowered over a period of time to require energy efficient improvements and practices are implemented for a home or building. Once a limit is established a %10 overage could be set up to prevent minor overusage problems. The system could also be programed to allow an overage based on previous under usage so a home owner or business could bank power toward a future problem with the house or building.

The bottom line however is we are going to have to make sacrifices at some level to make energy savings work.

Paul Mauldin's picture

smart grid

I dunno Jon - If I understand what you're saying, I can't see anyone giving that much authority to the utility or government unless it's stricly volunteered and comes with significant financial incentive. The purpose of monitoring various appliances is to give the customers feedback so they can see where to trim. There are programs, of course, that pay the consumer to allow the utility to shut off or cycle their air conditioner during peak load, but the customer gets paid for it and the utility doesn't shut down their entire service.


smart grid

Although don't claim any particular expertise in the smart grid arena, it seems to me that if your utility is receiving real time data about your electrical use, some malevolent employee could use that data to make a good guess about whether anyone is at home, as a means of targeting houses for burglaries. Law enforcement could also use it to reach similar conclusions for evidentiary purposes. If I'm right about this, I would be more concerned about privacy issues than whether or not my utility is going to reduce my bill in exchange for usage data.

Privacy and the Smart Grid adoption

At this point it becomes useful to look at adoption of innovation profiles:
The innovators and early adopters have enough understanding to select "acceptable" privacy protection and weigh benefits versus costs and risks. Then the smart grid has to "Cross the Chasm".
If widely acceptable privacy protection is not already built into the smart grid structure and practices, then there will be a &temporary& delay while the smart grid is rebuilt and trust is built in the changed practices.
Any trust that involves many, personally unknown, people is much harder to rebuild than to accept that the previous roll outs of the 1.0 smart grid have demonstrated better security and privacy than any other large-scale, computer-based network.
How do we build a smart grid that is demonstrably better than ATM networks, the Internet (easy -- the lowest threshold), gasoline retail cards, etc.?
We have to architecture the smart grid "right", use excellent best practices from first scale-up on, use all the previous errors and omissions to teach all parties to the smart grid that all must meet the best practices all the time --- and protect so human nature has the minimum temptation and minimum "surface for error" as reliability and Human-Machine-Interface practitioners teach.

Paul Mauldin's picture

smart grid

You make a good point caillebotte. Privacy is a big concern at the residential level. As you point out, monitoring usage would indeed indicate whether anyone is home. And we've all seen how private files have been hacked at banks and other corporations.

Thanks for your comment.

Smart grid paranoia

Although privacy is a major issue, a more important issue for many people is that smart grid technology will eventually allow the utility to control peoples’ use of power. Some people simply need to use power at peak times. Those people should pay more for that power at that time, but no one should be able to prevent them from using power when the need it. Dissuade them with financial incentives-yes. Prevent them- not if we are living in a free country.